Students as Teachers: a Culture of Inquiry and Learning

“I am just going to check in on everyone and see how they’re doing” – one of my Kindergarten students said as she led her peers through a step-by-step challenge where they created a DIY ‘marble run’ out of paper tubes and tape. 

My DECE partner and I were blown away by her kindness, patience and commitment to the success of her classmates during this process. 

We have been trying to keep an open invite for all students in our class to have the opportunity to be the “teacher” or the expert on a topic of their choice. Through online learning, fewer natural moments of teaching happen from student to student like they would in a physical classroom. Hands on collaboration between students virtually can be tricky, as they lack the opportunity to share space and materials. We decided it would be more equitable to schedule these student-led activities ahead of time, in order to allow all students time to prepare the proper materials. As I move to in person learning in the fall, it is my goal to continue this practice as a means of supporting students belonging and contributing in respect to the Kindergarten program. It is my hope to further explore the benefits of fostering students confidence as teachers in the classroom as I continue to learn from my competent and capable young learners. Here are my initial thoughts:

The classroom community

  • Inviting students as teachers creates a culture of learning, respect and curiosity
  • Students teaching their peers builds community and invites students to be vulnerable and make mistakes

Through the lens of a child

  • When our students stepped into the role of educators, it provided my DECE partner and I a unique opportunity: to see the world through their eyes. Through their ideas, descriptions and step-by-step processes we were able to develop a deep understanding of the way they view the world, the way they solve problems and the way they persevere through challenges. 
  • Many children enrolled in Kindergarten programs are immersed in their first experiences of formal schooling. For some of my students, my DECE partner and I are their very first examples of educators. The way that children go about giving instructions, gaining the attention of others and providing words of encouragement can be reflective of what they see. It can be very powerful to listen to a student recite an encouraging phrase verbatim, such as “You are a problem solver!”.

Benefits for students

  • Teaching their peers provides students with the space to take risks while gaining confidence in their own ideas and abilities 
  • For the students involved in this practice as the learner, it allows them to explore new ideas or approach learned concepts from a different perspective than my own or that of my DECE partner. 

Inviting students to perform a new role as a teacher is inclusionary, culturally responsive, relevant and meaningful – which is the basis of everything I hope to cultivate in Kindergarten. 

The Kindergarten/Grade 1 Dichotomy

“Control + F” on my keyboard allows me to search the word “play” with The Kindergarten Program (2016) document. This magic word comes up 566 times. 

Five HUNDRED and sixty-six times. 

Play is referenced over and over again throughout the document as a vehicle for learning. Examples of play and the power it holds are woven through the Kindergarten document with references to past and present research from literature around the world that supports play. Play is highlighted as being the highest form of learning for young children and the best way for students to take ownership and responsibility over their own ideas. 

The Grade 1 curriculum gives no such importance to play. These two programs lie at completely polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to the varying discourse used surrounding the view of the child.

If you have followed my posts, you know I have a passion for Kindergarten (Celebrating Kindergarten;  Everything I need to know, I learn in Kindergarten) and that I am an advocate for keeping the current model of Kindergarten in Ontario intact (Protect Full-Day Kindergarten). So, what’s the problem?

Bridging the gap

Naturally, those who teach Grade 1 work tirelessly to ensure students continue to have a positive and hands on experience that results in growth and learning. However, the transition between Kindergarten to Grade 1 shouldn’t have to be such a gigantic leap for students, families and educators alike.

The value of wonder

Though we are beginning to see the introduction of social and emotional learning (e.g. the new math curriculum), the Grade 1 curriculum can feel rigid in the sense that students wonder, interests and inquiries are not prioritized within the documents. Educators create this space of wonder for students within their classrooms, but wonder itself is not reflected within the curriculum documents, assessments, or the evaluation of students overall learning (e.g. the report card).

I dream of a world where the Kindergarten and Grade 1 curricula compliment each other rather than repel each other.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if….

  • Play and the benefits of play-based learning were prioritized beyond Kindergarten?
  • Report cards beyond Kindergarten were designed to allow educators space to reflect on the whole child and their development as learners within a classroom community?

Questions that Matter

My 7/8 students have been learning about data and how it connects to the world around them. Data is more important than ever as it relates to the way our province will go forward during these challenging times. Students were able to comment on how important data is when making decisions that impact our world. As always, I am grateful when math concepts are so easy to relate to the world around them.

I usually end the data unit each year with a survey project that would directly impact their learning. Students come up with some questions that they can ask their classmates and then we use the collected data to start something in the school. Times are challenging right now and it seemed like there was no question to pose to the student body. So, I let my students come up with some questions that matter. Here is what they came up with:

  1. What low contact sports would you like to play? (Options: dodgeball, soccer skills, badminton and volleyball)
  2. What time of day would you prefer to play? (Options: first break, second break or after school)
  3. What days of the week would you like to play? (Options: Monday to Friday)
  4. Who would you like to play with? (Options: mixed classes or class vs. class)
  5. What would you like to eat at graduation?
  6. What trips would you like to go on this year?

Of the six questions, students determined that four of them related to something we could start immediately while the other two were not necessarily good questions for this point in the school year. We started this planning period before the government announced that there could be a return to high contact sports should they be offered in schools. Provision of extra curricular activities is voluntary and a number are offered in my school.

Students got to work with this survey project. They were excited to ask their classmates sport related questions and predicted that volleyball, which has always been the favourite, would still be the favourite. A grade eight made a comment that even though they assume it will be volleyball, it would still make sense to complete the survey to see if their classmates were interested in more than one sport. Although the students in my class know that not everyone enjoys playing sports, they could not think of any survey questions relating to other topics. They noted that since these activities would be played “for fun”, that many students may come out.

Here is how the rest of the project played out:

  • Three students created an online survey differentiating between check boxes and multiple choice questions. They came to the conclusion that students should be allowed to select more than one sport and more than one day of the week but should have to chose between the time of day they preferred the most and the style of play they would most prefer.
  • My class helped me write an email to the six classes we would survey as they acknowledged you cannot just walk into a class without first planning a good time to survey.
  • Students came up with a contact-free way to survey where they had a sanitizer bottle near both devices and had students get called up row by row by their teacher to come complete the survey. They made sure that students who did not intend on participating in these activities should not complete the survey as it would skew the results.
  • We read the results and drew some conclusions.Here were our results:
    87 students completed the survey

Sports:

  • 58 students want to play volleyball
  • 24 students want to play badminton
  • 33 students want to try some soccer skills
  • 32 students want to play dodgeball.

Time of Day:

  • 38 students prefer to play after school
  • 33 students prefer to play at first break
  • 16 prefer to play at second break.

Style of Play:

  • 60 students want to play with mixed classes
  • 25 students want to play class vs. class.

Day of the Week:

  • 32 students would play Monday
  • 24 students would play Tuesday
  • 32 students would play Wednesday
  • 26 students would play Thursday
  • 30 students would play Friday
  • 37 students said it wouldn’t matter to them

Conclusions we drew about the data:

My students were not surprised that volleyball came out on top. They did however share that they did not know that many students would be interested in dodgeball and badminton as they had never been offered before. My students knew that after school would be popular but were shocked it was so close to the first break results. They knew second break would not be popular as most students go home for lunch during that time. They thought class vs. class would be the most popular as we had done a trial survey in our class and it was the most popular vote by far. The last question shocked them the most as they thought nobody would pick Monday. They were confused about the low numbers for Tuesday as it was a random day to have the lowest number of votes.

We then discussed next steps regarding our results. My students thought we would need to:

  1. Meet in their groups to discuss the results of each questions
  2. Write a small paragraph explaining the results of their question
  3. Have a meeting with the principal and vice principal to share the results
  4. Ask permission to run mixed intramurals as previously cohorts could not mix

After completing steps 1-4, the five students who shared the results with admin mentioned that at this time, we cannot mix cohorts. So we will have to run with the less popular result and explain that it could change in the future (class vs. class). Since basketball is running right now as the announcement of changing COVID guidelines allowed high contact sports, we will only have a few time slots to run these sports. As long as students see that their voice matters and their selections inspired programs in our school, then that is what counts!

Something that I did not expect to happen occurred during this survey project. One of my students made a realization that 87 students are interested in these intramurals but only 30- 40 students tried out of the team sports offered at our school. We discussed why this could be and my students came up with many great reasons. To summarize, the pressure of being on a school team may be too much for some and they prefer the smaller commitment of a fun intramural. My students assume that the time commitment of being on a team could have been too large or the pressure of a whole team depending on you being too much. I love competitive sports and I think they are great for students as it teaches them so much when being part of a team. However, I see how beneficial it is to have options for students that may not enjoy that competitive setting.

Our project has come to an end and we are excited to see how students enjoy these new activities at our school. My students will hopefully see that their questions mattered and that they will enrich the lives of students in the school. I think we will even be able to find ways to run most of these programs during DPA time (during the regular day’s schedule).

Provision of extra curricular activities is a voluntary part the work we do. It is important that they remain voluntary. Additionally, it is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic that if they are offered, they are only provided if all health and safety protocols can be observed to protect students and staff.  

Can the Integration of Students’ Lived Experiences in your Teaching Practices Impact Student Success?

I believe that there is a profound connection between student learning and student lived experiences and the ability of educators to embed who students are with what they are learning. I can vividly recall, as a young learner, the teachers who were most impactful in my learning. They showed genuine care for my well-being and often went above and beyond academic support,  in unconventional ways, to understand my needs, including my personal challenges based on my lived  circumstances, and to support me in all aspects of life. I can  honestly say that the relationships those teachers established with me directly helped to shape me into the person I  am today. Knowing who your students are, their identities, their barriers, their abilities and their lived experiences allow educators to create the conditions for dynamic learning opportunities that are culturally relevant and impactful to student learning.

What do experts say? 

Scholars Gloria Ladson-Billings and Geneva Gay have spent decades at the forefront of researching Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogies. Their findings have been clear: “integrating a student’s  background knowledge and prior home and community experiences into the curriculum and the teaching and learning experiences that take place in the classroom are paramount to meeting the needs of all  students”.

Furthermore, research shows that learning needs of students from diverse backgrounds are not being met equitably in classrooms across the system. For example, in the current age of destreaming mathematics for grade nine students across the system, it is important that teachers are well versed and equipped with the necessary tools and strategies to support all learners in an academic classroom. When we acknowledge students’ cultural experiences and prior knowledge, we are better positioned to strengthen their ability to see themselves as doers of mathematics, language, science, history, art and so on. They are further empowered to interpret the world around them with a critical social justice lens.  

Activity

The “Where I’m From” poetry activity is a great strategy you can use to have students explore their cultural identities and values, to foster collaboration with their peers, to create a positive classroom environment and to learn about students’ lived experiences. This activity should be culturally relevant to the students in the classroom and  intentionally structured to engage all learners at multiple entry points. This will help to foster a sense of community in the classroom and help the teacher understand who the students are and how to embed their real-time lived experiences into the teaching and learning process.

My 2 Cents

I think teachers should spend the first week or two of each school year engaging students in conversations about their (the students) own identity and lived experiences and the intersectionality of their identity. This would allow students to feel comfortable and confident in sharing who they are, as well as their thoughts and opinions, with others in the classroom. Try to create a brave and nurturing space where students feel comfortable talking about their racial background, their gender identity, and their preferred name. You can use culturally relevant books, videos, posters etc. that can lead to those discussions where students are invited and encouraged to talk about their own racial, gender and cultural  identities. Teachers can then incorporate students’ identities and lived experiences into the instructional planning and teaching program. 

Whether it’s a math activity, collaborative inquiry in history or a STEM project, it is important that teachers provide opportunities for students to reflect on their interests, their passions and how they see themselves within the development of the task. Use culturally relevant and responsive resources that reflect student identities, interests and lived experiences. Providing opportunities for small group discussions and descriptive feedback will help students make meaningful connections to that task and to their real-time lived experiences. Educator’s willingness to share their own identity with students, their own experiences in school as a young learner and  how their experiences inform and influence their decision-making process are effective strategies in building strong relationships with students that engage them in embedding their own lived experiences into their learning. If we truly believe in developing young minds, creating strong leaders and critical thinkers then we must create the space for that to happen within the classroom. When we let go of the notion that we are the holder of knowledge in the classroom, we create opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate leadership, to become critical thinkers and to advocate for justice and social change.

Positioning students as co-conspirators (and the fall of WE)

Since I began my teaching career six years ago, my practices of student engagement in activism and advocacy have evolved and shifted based on the community of learners I am working with. At the same time, my attitude towards this work has shifted consistently and drastically. The most notable change? My feelings toward social enterprises whose work in schools may appear charitable, but are steeped in controversy and insincerity.

In my first year of teaching, a student in my Grade Three class gave me a “Rafiki Bracelet” sold to them by the WE Charity. It was later that school year that I was sitting in a school-wide assembly, watching a promotional video for the same organization in which a group of women in Kenya were profiled as they beaded the bracelets themselves. Students were being sold the notion that they themselves would be contributing to the livelihood of these women and their communities by simply purchasing a bracelet. Colleagues and I asked ourselves: Why can’t we see the long-term impacts of these temporary solutions to a deeply systemic problem?

Many who criticize WE’s business model, through which students became a vehicle for sales and profit, point out how students were roped into the fantasy of “saving” impoverished communities with their efforts. What started with a Rafiki bracelet not only became thousands of dollars in spending on WE’s “voluntourism” programs, but also the excitement of post-graduation employment at WE without realizing that the organization overworked and underpaid its employees to a severe extreme.

As educators we can ask why students would have fallen victim to a model like WE’s, but what we should do is critically examine the ways that celebrity, fame, and ego were at the centre of WE’s initiatives, particularly WE Day, in order to convince students to join their cause. WE Day harnessed an unbelievable amount of power in numbers, but it fostered an almost cult-like manipulation and exploitation of our students who would have needed a trusted adult to help them understand more appropriate avenues for activism and advocacy work in school.

It’s been one year since WE announced it would be ceasing its Canadian programs after having been embroiled in scandal. My hope is that we use this turn of events to deepen our consciousness around what it means to be an activist in school and work hard to de-centre the ego from the work our students do to help others. Instead of portraying the student as the saviour, how might we portray the student as a co-conspirator? How might we foster a sense of humility in classroom activism? In what ways does our teaching perpetuate narratives in which non-western countries are “poor” instead of examining the systems of power that cause disparity?

These questions simply scratch the surface of the impact that WE’s programs, values, and corruption have had in our schools and on our students, here in Canada and across the world. As we reflect, we must also continue to name and unpack these problems in order to push past the fault in our practice and move forward in a good way. 

For an in-depth look into the WE scandal, listen to “The White Saviors” series by Canadaland: https://www.canadaland.com/shows/the-white-saviors/ 

 

Virtual Design Sprint

One of the highlights of this past month was working with a colleague to run a design sprint in their virtual classroom. I had so much fun working with students around a repeatable process that they could use to solve any problem! With our time limited to one day, these Grade 4 students rose to the challenge and created some incredible solutions that absolutely blew my mind!!!

What Is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a repeatable process that when the user is centered, allows students to gain empathy for those for whom they are designing. The process is cyclical and at any point, designers can always return to an earlier point in the process so as to create a more effective solution. 

We started our day using a Jamboard and considered all the problems that exist in the world around us. I think it was at this moment that I knew that this was going to be an incredible day! From the isolation related to dealing with Covid to food insecurity, these Grade 4 students were looking at the world with their eyes wide open. As we worked, the students took time to sort their ideas into categories, looking for similarities that may exist between problems. 

From there, the students each picked just one problem that they wanted to spend the day tackling. This is sometimes very tricky as there are so many different problems that we may be passionate about. Once they picked the problem that they wanted to focus on, the students took some time to research.  In order to create effective solutions, we must understand the problem in an in-depth way. 

Our next step was to consider who was affected and to pick someone for whom we would design our solution. Without actually doing interviews and knowing our users well, this is often difficult because we do make assumptions. This was a key part in helping students to understand that this is a process and once we know more, we often have to rethink the effectiveness of our solutions and sometimes this means going back to the drawing board.

Next, we moved into ideation and used Crazy 8s to come up with some new and innovative ideas. With most groups, there is some worry about coming up with ideas quickly but once again, these students jumped on board and came right along with me. 

In the afternoon, we spent some time paper prototyping and creating pitches for our solutions. After presentations and feedback, the students had the opportunity to reflect on the day: what they learned about themselves and the process, and also how they could use the learning in the future. 

What Was the Learning for Students?

The students walked away with some incredible ideas for how they would create change in the world. Through the use of these design tools, they were excited to consider the next steps to their creations. While I always struggle with the limitation of implementation that sometimes comes with design, with this group, I am actually hopeful for what they might create, given the opportunity to connect with someone who might support the execution of their idea. 

One idea that came from our day was the creation of an app that would record, track and report instances of racism. Clearly, over the past year, the students in the class have been having critical conversations about race and what is happening in the world around us. It’s because of these conversations and the fact that we can no longer ignore that these issues are having an impact on our children, that this student decided to focus on this topic. Although there were many features of this student’s app, I loved that the designer considered the fact that not everyone has data and that the app would work without it. They also made it easy to access and share the information so that even in a difficult situation – such as facing racism – the user would be able to utilize the app to its fullest potential.

With all of the problems and challenges we all are facing these days, I think it’s pretty incredible to learn a repeatable process for designing something new. Whether or not these ideas come to life right away, I know that these students have learned a new way of problem solving and I know that many will take these skills and apply them in the future. 

Interested in learning more about how to run your own design sprint or how to incorporate elements of design thinking into your program for next year? Join me in August for a 3-day Summer Academy Course on Design Thinking for All. You won’t want to miss it!

Note:

ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Top Ten Tips for Attending Virtual Professional Learning for Educators

So much learning is happening virtually now and it is amazing.  I recently attended a virtual EdTech Conference in Nebraska!  This is an opportunity I never would have been able to take advantage of before the pandemic.  I have attended a number of virtual conferences during COVID and I’ve also organized and facilitated virtual learning over the last year and it is a different way to get your learn on!

In order to really get the most out of Virtual Professional Learning here are my go-to suggestions:

  1.  Organize your time and your conference selections in advance.  If there are many choices, take the time to do the research on the session and on the presenter. If there are digital links for presentations on the conference site to add into a digital tote-do it before your sessions so that you aren’t tempted to leave the session in order to do so.  Thank you ISTE LIVE 21  for the digital tote feature!
  2. Be PRESENT.  Be mindful and intentional about your learning.  If it isn’t the kind of learning that you were expecting, hop over to another session otherwise you’ll be resentful of wasted time and learning.
  3. Put your “out of office” email message on and don’t check your email.  If you were in an in-person setting, checking your email would be rude. This is time for your learning so treasure and protect that time.
  4. When possible attend LIVE sessions not asynchronous or previously recorded sessions.  LIVE sessions have opportunities to engage and ask questions which makes the learning is deeper.
  5. Have a PLP (Professional Learning Partner) or two! No one really wants to go to a conference by themselves. Some of the best learning takes place when you share what you learned in a session that your PLP wasn’t able to attend! You double the learning!
  6. Participate in the learning.  If there is a chat feature then put who you are and where you are from in the chat.  Ask questions, engage and connect.  This is where you grow your Professional Learning Network.  In a face to face conference you would sit down and meet new people.  Think of how you would engage with others in a real conference setting.
  7. TWEET! TWEET!  Get the conference hashtag, follow it, retweet and tweet about your learning and the presenters.  Follow those presenters and give them a shoutout. Take a picture of the slide that they are sharing and post it (without people’s faces and names in it.)  It is awesome as a facilitator to see the tweets afterwards.  It is timely feedback and motivational for the presenter.
  8. Take notes.  My PLPs and I recently collaborated on note taking using a Google Slide deck while attending a conference.  We pasted links, took screenshots and put notes of important information into the slide deck so we have the learning for later.
  9. Participate.  As a presenter, it isn’t nice to present to the empty boxes on Zoom or Webex. Just as in person, it is nice to see the reaction of the audience to pace yourself and to know that they are still with you! That being said, if you are eating or dealing with your dog or family or have decided to multi-task, leaving your camera on can be distracting for the participants and the presenter.  If there is a question asked in the chat, respond! There is nothing like being a presenter left hanging.  If there is a poll, a word cloud, a Jamboard,or a Kahoot, play along! The presenter created these things in order to make the presentation interactive for the adult learner.
  10.  Take Breaks.  Make sure you look carefully at the schedule (and the time zone) in order to plan your screen, water, coffee, bathroom, movement or snack breaks.

The most important thing to remember is that the presenters put time and effort to share their learning and expertise with you.  It is nerve-wracking to present to a group of educators.  Tech savvy people have tech issues too.  Give presenters grace and remember to thank them and provide feedback for their work and expertise.  They will appreciate it!

 

Point of View

This month, we are exploring different points of view through reading and writing a variety of texts. This “big idea” has many possibilities for critical thinking and cross-curricular integration with Media Literacy, Social Studies, Science, Visual Arts, Music and Drama.

In my Grade 2 class, we have used point of view to explore issues of accessibility, anti-Black racism, Indigenous sovereignty and homophobia. Here are some of the texts that Kindergarten-Grade 8 educators can use when learning on-line and in class:

William’s Doll
During Gender Splendour Week, we read “William’s Doll” by Charlotte Zolotov, to explore gender stereotypes and homophobia. We also watched a video from the movie, “Free to Be You and Me” that sings the story as a song. “William’s Doll” is about a boy who wants a doll to play with, but he is told that he cannot have a doll because he is a boy.

Young children receive powerful messages from family, media, clothing and toy stores about what is expected of “boys” and “girls.” These binaries reinforce heterosexism, and often cause harm and exclude students who do not fit into these boxes. It is important to give children the opportunity to name, question, and challenge these gender binaries, and create space for more possibilities.

Before reading “William’s Doll”, I asked students to share their ideas about what it means to be a “boy” and a “girl.” We talked about what a “stereotype” is and how these ideas might not include everyone. Students easily made connections to their own personal experiences of shopping, and described how different products are sorted and sold, (e.g., pink Kinder Eggs for girls). After reading, we used a graphic organizer to support our ideas with evidence from the text.  Then, students wrote about different points of view expressed in the text.  

Of Course They Do!
On the International Day of Pink, we continued to have courageous and critical conversations about how schools can be more inclusive, and how we can take action as allies. After reading texts such as, “Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Anything” by Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol, and “10,00 Dresses” by Marcus Ewert, students talked about their experiences of being told they couldn’t do something because of their perceived gender. For example, boys with long hair shared their experiences of being challenged in the washroom. We focussed our discussion on how we might respond to questions and/or suggestions that we don’t belong. We used Drama and role-play to practice naming and responding to behaviour.

Hey, Little Ant!
“Hey, Little Ant” by Hannah Hoose and Phillip Hoose, is a story about a kid who is about to squish an ant. The story is told from two different points of view. On each page, we hear the voice of the kid and a response from the ant. The story ends with a question, which is a great prompt for discussion and writing, “What do you think that kid should do?”

This story is a great opportunity to explore empathy and compassion, and students’ relationships with animals. “Hey, Little Ant” also includes a song, which can enrich the text. After reading, students wrote about the different points of view in the story, and then wrote about their own point of view.

The Tree
“The Tree” written by Dana Lyons is written from the point of view of a tree in the Pacific Rainforest. After writing and sharing the story, the author learned from elders of the Lummi Nation, the original inhabitants of San Juan islands, that he has written the tree’s song. Every tree has a song.

We listened to “The Tree,” drew pictures and shared stories about trees that are important to us. Then, students wrote their own poem or song from the point of view of a tree. We used sentence prompts, such as: “I live….” “I hear….” “I have seen….” “My favourite season is…..” “I wonder….” “I hope…” I found a video of Dana Lyons singing the text as a birthday present for Jane Goodall. I hope we will be able to turn our text into songs!

The Council of All Beings
I am always inspired by my teacher friends! Maria Vamvalis is currently working on her PhD, and shares her learning about climate justice with Natural Curiosity as a mentor coach. We took a course together at OISE, and Maria shared how she has used “The Council of All Beings” to allow students to connect with land and speak in-role from the point of view of other life forms, including animal, plant or natural feature, (desert, forest, etc). This article written by Joanna Macy describes the process.

I am learning that the purpose of the Council is to listen and give voice to land, which includes animals, plants, air, water, soil, etc. The process honours our shared responsibilities and relationships with more-than-humans, and helps us to remember and reconnect with land. It requires guidance and thoughtful facilitation. It sounds like a powerful teaching and learning experience.

Joanna Macy explains: “The Council unfolds in three consecutive stages. First, the beings address each other, telling of the changes and hardships they have experienced.” The second stage creates space for humans to hear from the more-than human beings directly. A few students remove their mask and are invited into the centre of the Circle to listen. The third stage of the council involves the other beings offering gifts to the humans. “As ritual guide I might cue this stage by saying, “Many humans now realize the destruction they are causing; they feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of the forces they have unleashed. Yet our fate is in their hands. O fellow-beings, what strengths of ours can we share with them, what powers can we lend them?” With this invitation, the beings in the Council begin spontaneously to offer their own particular qualities and capacities. After speaking, each leaves their mask and steps in the centre as humans to receive gratitude and gifts. There is opportunity for singing, dancing and release, as well as reflection and stillness.

I think “The Council of All Beings” would enrich any Earth Day celebrations, and/or National Indigenous Peoples Day. I believe it could be adapted for on-line learning, and would be a powerful collaborative and creative experience for all members of the school community, including families.

People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus Pandemic
I have a new subscription to “Rethinking Schools”, which is an excellent magazine about social justice education. In the Winter 2020-2021 issue, Caneisha Mills describes how she organized a tribunal with her Intermediate students to explore responsibility for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Some of those on trial include: Mother Nature, Racism, the HealthCare industry, Capitalism, and the U.S. government. You can read the article, “Who’s to Blame?” here.

Caneisha Mills honours student voice and engages students in a collaborative and critical process of exploring the global pandemic from different points of view.  She honours student voice, and creates a brave space for students to “grapple with profound social injustice” and imagine different possibilities. Mills explains that the “most important part of this lesson involves students writing a 10-point program — inspired by the Black Panthers’ 10-point program, adopted in 1966 — on how to prevent crises like this in the future.”

The article includes a clear teaching plan and provides information for educators who might want to implement the People’s Tribunal on the Coronavirus, on or off-line. “This people’s tribunal begins with the premise that a heinous crime is being committed as tens of millions of people’s lives are in danger due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — COVID-19. But who — and/or what — was responsible for this crime? Who should be held accountable for the spread of the virus and its devastating impact?”

The teacher plays the role of the prosecutor. Students are assigned different roles, and the “defendants” are supported to work in small groups to develop a defense against the charges outlined in the indictments. A jury is selected, and each group shares their arguments at the trial. There is only one rule: They may plead guilty, but they must accuse at least one other defendant of being responsible. After the jury deliberates and explains their verdict, all students are invited to reflect on the experience. Then, they use their voice to demand and create change.

The tribunal sounds like a meaningful learning opportunity for older students to explore different points of view. I am curious to think about how this might be adapted for younger students.

In your point of view, what are some powerful texts and/or dramatic conventions that you have used in the classroom and on-line?  Please add them to the Comments below.



Passion Projects Through Design

This past month I was honoured to be able to share my love of design when given the opportunity to be a part of a team of ETFO educators working with TVO to support alternative learning opportunities for students across Ontario. For the last number of years, I’ve been using design with students as a means of building empathy while problem solving in a real way. During this recent time of distance learning, my students participated in creating meaningful solutions related to covid-19. I was blown away by the ideas that were being crafted as we looked to have a positive impact during these challenging times. Having had the chance to work on this with students during this time, I thought using a similar framework could be a great way to get students solving problems related to their passions. In this post, I’ll share a little about each of the episodes from the Power Hour of Learning. Perhaps as we look to an uncertain September, some of the ideas contained may come in handy as we work with students to continue building some of these essential skills.

Part 1- Picking Your Passion and Understanding the Problem

Designers and Engineers are the people who make virtually everything that we use on a daily basis. In this episode, we have the opportunity to learn a little more about Designers and Engineers as we start to consider our passions. Identifying a passion is a challenge for some. This task alone can feel daunting to many. Earlier today I was speaking with a few colleagues and we spoke about ensuring that we are open to the possibility that students may be passionate about any number of things so it’s important to value what students share they are passionate about. In this episode, students are given the opportunity to brainstorm their passions a bit and then they start to think of some of the problems associated with that passion. Throughout the 3 parts, I share about a design project that I worked on with middle school students a few years back. Once they have identified a problem associated with their passion, we spend some time trying to get a complete picture of the problem by answering the 5Ws and how of the problem. The episode ends with students gaining a deeper understanding of their problem but also understanding that more research about the problem might be required before moving on. We really want to get a full picture or the real story about the problem before we start to think about potential solutions.

Part 2 – Ideation

This is by far my favourite part of the design process. It’s the part where students can use some of the tools used by designers and engineers to quickly come up with new and creative solutions to the problem they identified during part 1. Using Crazy 8s, students are guided through rapid ideation and are asked to consider a specific user for whom they would like to solve the problem. The episode ends with asking students to pick one of their ideas to move ahead with. In design, we’re always narrowing things down and focusing in on the problem. 

Part 3 – Storyboarding and Prototyping

Once students have identified the solution they are most interested in focusing on, they can start to consider the steps they will take to bring their idea to life. A prototype is a physical solution that they can put into the hands of their users to test out and students learn just how to do that in this episode. Whether they are creating a physical product or program or service, students are given the opportunity to get started on a plan of action that they can take. In this episode, students are also reminded of the importance of checking in with their users and feedback in the process.  At the end of the episode, students should be ready to get started on their prototypes.

It was such a pleasure to share my experiences in design on this platform. As we look to September, I wonder how I might be able to further connect students to their passions and how that can be a way in which students can further share about themselves with their new classmates. I can’t imagine what learning at a distance might look like as we start a new school year but I do know that honouring the individuals who show up will be of the utmost importance as we get started.

I hope that you have a happy and safe summer. See you again in September!

Overwhelming Resources

As we engage in distance/remote/online/emergency learning Educators are being inundated with resources and tools to use in their virtual classrooms.  It isn’t easy to decide which would be most effective and which ones are safe for teachers and students to use.  There is no one size fits all answer to this but there are a few things that I do in order to narrow down my choices of whether or not to use a particular digital tool or resource:

  1.  I search for tools that are designed by Canadian or better yet, Ontario Educators and where possible, data is housed in Canada.
  2. I look at whether or not the tool will still be free after the COVID crisis is over or whether it has always been a free tool.  I honestly don’t mind paying for a tool from the outset but I don’t really like the whole free trial thing.  I also don’t want to pay some kind of a monthly fee.  One time price, please!  I don’t want to love a tool so much while it is free and then have to pay for it when I go back into the classroom.
  3. I look at whether or not it is a one time fee or negative billing.  I won’t give anyone my credit card to start a free trial for a tool.
  4. I search for tools that I know will be supported by my ICT department.  Anything that wants access to email contacts in my school board is a non-starter.
  5. I search for tools that inspire collaboration and creativity.  I’m not one to sign up students for a gaming platform that is really just an engaging math drill.
  6. I look at bang for my buck (even if it is free).  Is it a versatile tool?  Does it allow for different forms of communication?  Can I embed audio and video?  Is there an opportunity for a variety of feedback methods?
  7. I look at the Privacy statement.  Although I am no expert in this, I can generally tell when something has red flags.  Anything that is attached to third party social media platforms like Facebook is a non starter for me.
  8. Right now while there are so many sign ups and passwords for students, I stay away from platforms that want to create student accounts and want information apart from an email.
  9. I look to see if it is a Microsoft or Apple Education certified product?  I know that for the most part, those tools are trustworthy.
  10. I look at user reviews and YouTube tutorials.  I want to know what the pitfalls are of something before I invest time and/or money.

At the end of the day no tool is perfect and few tools are unlikely to meet the specific needs of each and every student in your classroom.  However, I hope that what I do when choosing a tool might guide you to the most effective tools in the over abundance of resources that are floating around out there.